The Adaptable Kitchen
When I was in my early 20s, I shared an apartment for a year with another young woman, who was a vegetarian. For a variety of reasons, I chose to join her in vegetarian cooking – she put no pressure on me to do so – so we shared the tasks of cooking, shopping, and so on. It was, in many ways, a wonderful year – not least because she was gregarious. We routinely found ourselves throwing dinner parties or casually inviting people back for a meal – the young men in our lives, yes, often, but others also. I started noticing, though, that very few of my old friends would accept an invitation to dinner… and gradually I realized that they were worried about being served “vegetarian food.” This mystified me, as we were eating spaghetti, and chili, and mac & cheese, and bean soup, and big salads, and… wonderful food, really much better than the hot dogs I knew that some were heating up for themselves. But then one of her friends, also vegetarian, who wished to reciprocate for the many meals he’d eaten at our table, kindly invited us over for a Soy Loaf – textured vegetable protein, held together by I don’t know what (but it certainly didn’t include anything with flavor…) I realized what they were afraid of.
I find that there are two basic approaches, when a person, for whatever reason, stops eating a certain food. One is to search desperately for a Substitute – something else to put in that spot on the plate. At first it seems like the easier approach – and it is certainly encouraged by commercial enterprises happy to supply us with veggie burgers, and artificial sweeteners, and gluten free cake mixes. But most of those products are pale imitations of the food we used to want… And I, at least, find that they are more likely to keep us focused on, and missing, the food we have stopped eating.
The other approach is to concentrate on entirely different food – dishes that never included the now-troublesome ingredients to begin with, or that can be easily adapted to simply omit them. In my examples above – macaroni & cheese doesn’t require meat at all, and if you serve a chili with lots of beans over rice or even just with corn chips, and perhaps add a bit of cheese, you have plenty of protein and won’t miss the meat at all. (Some recipes, again, look for substitutes and add TVP – but why?) A glance at this blog will tell you that this is my preferred approach.
There is, though, a time and place for the first approach. Most obviously – someone who never chose to give up any food but suddenly is diagnosed with diabetes, celiac disease, or any other illness treated, at least in part, by food choice. When you stop at the supermarket on the way home from the doctor, still reeling from the diagnosis, that’s not a good time to entirely reevaluate your eating patterns – it is a good time to make sure that there is still something sort of familiar that you can eat. Because you need Dinner, tonight. (And what you had planned won’t work, now.) And even those of us who follow the second pattern often have some exceptions. Sometimes just for another person – you eat the tofurkey so that Mom can feel that she’s served you a proper Thanksgiving Dinner, even if you’d have been fine with the usual fifteen or so side dishes. But there also may be a slot that simply needs to be filled – I know many people who avoid dairy and dairy substitutes for most uses but still need Something in their morning coffee. I don’t eat sugar, almost never eat dessert, and usually don’t even think about it – but I do make sugar free desserts for holidays and birthdays, and every so often make Chocolate Pudding, just because it is good to have a Treat, once in a while.
My approach to Gluten Free cooking has been the second approach, with that slight seasoning of the first… Corn muffins don’t need wheat, so that is where I started, when I was in the first stage of wondering what to eat for breakfast, if not oatmeal or toast. But then, I had a major advantage. I looked back on the blog – both the recipes and my What I Ate Wednesday posts – and was amazed by how little gluten I saw… That made the whole shift much easier. I haven’t found pasta I like – so we eat polenta, I’m going to try making gnocchi, and… well…. I do have pasta rollers, and, one of these days, will probably experiment with making egg noodles and ravioli, since I have different expectations of the texture for them.
So, mostly the second approach, food that never needed gluten, but… I’ve looked for other ingredients to use in recipes – Quinoa Meatloaf, Pecan Crusted Pork Chops – instead of buying gluten free bread for bread crumbs. Most of the time, I just eat rice cakes, or muffins, or tortillas, but some point, I will bake bread, because it really is so handy to have around… Most of the blog will continue to just plug along, fairly quietly gluten free (as it has always been quietly sugar free.) I’ve seen others that proudly tell you they have Gluten Free Pasta Recipes – that then have an ordinary sauce recipe and tell you to use a cooked gf commercial pasta. I don’t see the point to that. I have recipes that you can use with whatever pasta you eat. (There is a point if they have tips on cooking gf pasta, which has its own issues, or indeed any variations – but these did not.)
A friend recently complained about reading something that was specifically about Organic Cooking – and kept telling you to use Organic Onions and Organic Tomatoes, and Organic Peppers, and Organic… which she found annoying, as she felt that, if that’s the basic premise, you don’t have to keep repeating it. This is a blog that is gluten free, rather than a Gluten Free Blog. I assume that if you use organic vegetables, you will, and if you don’t, you won’t – whatever I say. The same for gluten free pasta. I do think it is worth mentioning gf soy sauce, in case you are cooking this for someone else, and never realized soy sauce can be an issue (and I will do this with other non-obvious ingredients) but most of the time, it’s just an ordinary recipe, and I assume you can make basic obvious changes.
At the same time, I do have the category Adaptable Kitchen. It is for the comparative handful of recipes where I have made a serious change to adapt it to a certain dietary restriction. Non-dairy “Creme” Soup made with silk tofu. Unsweetened granola. And recipes that I had to change and adapt to make them gluten free… baked goods, “breaded” foods, we’ll see where I go with this. So far, I like what I’ve made, but I really don’t eat those foods every day.
Rich was just discussing this with his parents – who asked, in dismay “But if she can’t eat wheat, what does she eat?” Well, he said… rice, corn muffins, quinoa, tortillas, millet, kasha, not to mention meat and beans and vegetables and fruit and cheese and… Oh. That didn’t sound so bad, then…
It really isn’t. In fact – it’s really pretty good.